New Zealand election 2011: What are the parties' New Zealand immigration policies?

New Zealand is set to vote in a general election on Saturday 26 November and while most polls have the incumbent National Party under Prime Minister John Key safely ahead, in a democracy as robust as NZ's anything could happen.
Naturally, the various parties have slightly different approaches to immigration issues and are making different pledges to the Kiwi electorate in this key policy area.

But regardless of which party occupies the Beehive after the election, some changes to the immigration system or the direction of immigration and/or New Zealand visa policy are probable.

Visa Bureau has summarised the main immigration policies put forward by the parties contesting this election so that you can be aware of any changes before they happen.


Act New Zealand

Act New Zealand is a breakaway group from the National Party and a support partner in the current minority Government. They are a centre-right party that, like the National Party, are focused on economic growth and therefore the economic benefits of migration.

The Act Party proposes the following in its 2011 election immigration policy platform:

  • To lower administrative barriers to entering New Zealand so as to make migration a more attractive option;
  • To ensure immigration "does not become a drain on the welfare state";
  • To ensure migrant intake is focused primarily on "productive workers who will enrich our society and economy, create jobs through entrepreneurship, links to home countries, and demand for goods and services"; and
  • To improve general economic performance through reducing government spending and overregulation which will in turn make immigration to NZ more attractive.


The Green Party

The Green Party's roots are in environmental politics but they are also strong supporters of immigration. The Greens propose an immigration system that is heavily focused on human rights and humanitarian paths to migration as well as economic.

In this election, the Greens have put forward immigration policies including:

  • Increasing New Zealand's annual refugee intake from 750 to 1000;
  • Enhancing government resources for refugee resettlement programs;
  • Abolish the current "lottery" system for refugee family reunification and introduce a "fair process with published priorities and standards";
  • Prioritise skilled workers that will aid a "sustainable society and economy";
  • Ensure temporary migrants are given equal pay and conditions as co-workers with different visa status;
  • Ensure that immigration levels are reviewed regularly and based on net population change, environmental factors and international humanitarian obligations; and
  • Begin preparations for "climate change refugees".


The Labour Party

The Labour Party is the main opposition party in New Zealand currently holding 42 of the 122 seats in the Parliament's House of Representatives and was previously in Government from 1999 to 2008.

Labour has made a suite of immigration pledges this election, both threatening to repeal policies of the National Government and introduce new policies if elected. Policy ideas include:

  • A review of the Skilled Migrant Category to ensure best practice;
  • Flexible arrangements for migrants on business and investor New Zealand visas;
  • Increase opportunities for young foreign entrepreneurs to emigrate to New Zealand including the possibility of visa extensions for international students;
  • Reverse the changes to the visa system for temporary entertainment workers introduced by the Key Government and set to come into affect in March 2012;
  • Strengthen mental health services for refugees;
  • Review the refugee family reunification program;
  • Support options for refugees to enrol in tertiary education;
  • Introduce a specialist Immigration Ombudsman within the Office of the Ombudsman, to investigate system issues, complaints and immigration detention issues;
  • Establish a Residence Review Panel to assist the Immigration Minister on residency policy issues.


The Mana Party

The Mana Party is contesting a general election for the first time in 2011 and was formed by Hone Harawira MP after his expulsion from the Maori Party. The Mana Party has not released a cohesive immigration policy as of yet but recently Mana candidate for the seat of Makukau East John Minto made comments accusing the current system of "pervasive racism" against New Zealanders of Pacific Islander origin.


The Maori Party 

Formed by former Labour Minister Tariana Turia in 2004 following her resignation over the foreshore and seabed controversy - a dispute over traditional indigenous ownership of natural resources - the Maori Party is committed to keeping New Zealand's laws compliant with the Treaty of Waitangi. It is currently a support partner in the National minority government.

The Maori Party does not have an official stance on New Zealand immigration issues such as visas or intake levels but has proposed a policy to make New Zealand citizenship conditional on completion of a course in the history of the treaty. "To complete globally it is important that new citizens share our understanding of history," says the Maori Party's election policy document.


The National Party 

Should the National Party be re-elected we are likely to see a continuation of the immigration policies implemented and prioritised since coming to power in 2008. The Nats' immigration policy document explains that "immigration plays a crucial part in National's plan to build a brighter future".

The party says that if re-elected it will continue to expand and develop its current immigration policies such as the Silver Fern Visa program, residency application process for religious workers, overhaul of processes at Immigration New Zealand and changes to the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.

But the Nats have also flagged some new immigration policies and priorities to be implemented if John Key's team secures a second term, including:

  • Attracting more business migrants and investment capital;
  • Import skilled labour to assist with the post-earthquake rebuild of Christchurch; and
  • Implement a whole-of-government single-agency approach to refugees and asylum seekers.


United Future 

Like the Act and Maori parties, United Future has in the last Parliament entered a confidence and supply agreement with National, making it a support partner in the minority government. Immigration and population is one of the key policy interests of this party, formed in 2002 from an amalgamation of centrist and Christian democrat parties. In this election it has proposed policies including:

  • A 10-year population strategy to identify and minimise the impact of demographic changes;
  • Devise and implement comprehensive immigrant settlement programs to provide immigrants with language, social services and job placement support;
  • Establish a Business Development Agency to help migrants set up businesses;
  • Encourage "all migrants to consider themselves as New Zealanders";
  • Establish a retirement NZ visa to allow parents of permanent residents and citizens to be sponsored for migration;
  • Establish a specific employment-finding agency for refugees;
  • Create a mentor system for new migrants to help them adjust to life in New Zealand.

These various policy platforms highlight the differing views on the direction of immigration policy in New Zealand politics. Whoever forms the next government, and the amount of seats and therefore bargaining power and policy attention that each of these parties receive at this election, will impact on the opportunities for emigration to New Zealand and what you can expect when you arrive.

- Aleks Vickovich is Online Editor for the New Zealand Visa Bureau.